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Microsoft Rolls Out Premium Version of Outlook.com

Microsoft has quietly released a premium, ad-free version of its Outlook.com e-mail service, testing consumers' appetite to pay for personal e-mail services that they've used at no cost for decades.

Microsoft released Outlook.com Premium last year, first to invitation-only pilots and then as a public preview in October, as documented by ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley. Microsoft recently removed the "preview" designation from the service, though the company didn't say when, according to a Feb. 14 update. A few weeks earlier, Microsoft had told Foley that the migration of the 400 million Outlook.com mailboxes to the Office 365 infrastructure, which is powered by Microsoft Exchange, was 99.9 percent complete.

The new Outlook.com Premium service costs $49.99 per year, but is available at a promotional rate of $19.95 until March 31.

All of the major e-mail providers, including Google, Yahoo and Microsoft, have long offered premium ad-free e-mail services and other perks. What could give the new Outlook.com Premium service added appeal is the ability to use existing personal e-mail addresses in an account. Furthermore, a user can allow four additional people to use the domain name of the e-mail address, allowing them to also share calendars, contacts and files. The service also lets customers either create any domain that's available or tie to one they already have.

Customers who sign up for the promotional $19.95 rate will get use of the personal domain for free for the first year. While they can renew for the same price, each personal domain costs an additional $10 per year. The personal domain automatically synchronizes Outlook.com mailboxes along with hotmail.com, live.com and msn.com accounts into one mailbox.

Personal e-mail domains require an Outlook.com Premium subscription, according to Microsoft's FAQ about the Outlook.com Premium service, which implies that cancelling the latter means you must give up your domain name. You can create up to 10 aliases per Microsoft account and are permitted to change them up to 10 times per calendar year.

Outlook.com Premium users can use the same password to sign into an account with any alias tied to that Microsoft account, according to the FAQ. The company describes how to add or remove aliases in Outlook.com Premium here. If you bring your own domain, the registration process requires that you verify ownership and update its mail (MX) records by following instructions on the "bring your own domain" setting.

Users who don't want e-mails from their different accounts to appear in the same inbox can create rules to automatically move messages from a specific account to different e-mail folders. Outlook.com Premium also allows users to send and receive e-mails from AIM Mail, Gmail and Yahoo Mail addresses, with Outlook.com Premium serving as the primary inbox for those other accounts. Similar to Microsoft's free e-mail services, attachment size limits are 10MB, or 300GB when linked via OneDrive.

Outlook.com Premium, according to the FAQ, does not "currently" support e-mail auto-forwarding, e-mail groups, DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM) or Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting and Conformance (DMARC). Perhaps the use of "currently" suggests those features may appear in the future. For now, Outlook.com Premium is only available to customers in the United States.

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.